BicycleSource Newsletter

October 16th, 1997
(Times of London)
Leonardo bike 'was 1960s doodle'


A SKETCH that for years has convinced some academics that Leonardo da Vinci invented the bicycle was in fact a doodle by an Italian monk in the 1960s, it was claimed yesterday. The drawing of a two-wheeled machine with chain, pedals, seat and handlebars was discovered in 1974 by a researcher at the Catholic University in Milan. It has appeared in books and museum displays with Leonardo's sketches of parachutes and a helicopter, becoming a source of Italian pride. At the time, it was thought unlikely to be a drawing done directly by the master, but a rough copy by a pupil of an original -- since lost -- sketch by Leonardo.

Now Hans-Erhard Lessing, retired curator of the Museum of Technology and Labour in Mannheim, believes that two circles on a sheet of genuine Leonardo drawings were sketched into a bicycle in the 1960s when Italian monks were restoring manuscripts. "No one questioned it ? the Italians were ecstatic to have invented the bicycle," the retired curator and technology enthusiast has told New Scientist magazine. The sketch of the bicycle is on the back of a sheet of Leonardo drawings that had been folded in half and glued by a 16-century conservator.

Mr Lessing tracked down Carlo Pedretti, an art historian at the University of California at Los Angeles, who in 1961 had examined the folded pages. He confirmed that he had never seen a bicycle among the sketches. Instead his notebook records seeing two circles. "What I saw was not a bicycle," he told the magazine. An analysis of the brown crayon could provide conclusive proof, by helping to date the drawing. But the pages have since been sealed in plastic to preserve them. Despite the controversy, modellers at the Museum of Leonardo da Vinci in Florence have made a full-scale replica of the bicycle based on the sketch. It will be on display in an exhibition to the master's work in New York this month.
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